Learning Japanese and living in Japan made me a kinder person

Providence Doucet on Unsplash.com

Since I started learning Japanese in high school, I have been fascinated with other language-learning stories. What makes people want to learn other languages? How do they get fluent? Why does someone want to live in a different country? Is it even possible to use foreign languages in a job?

I don’t know why I like learning languages so much, but it’s always been a part of me – especially since I spoke Polish growing up. As a kid, I remember wanting to speak seven languages. I appreciated knowing the Polish language and culture, but it was also too familiar to me. Learning Japanese, however, was a breath of fresh air. 

The best part about learning Japanese was how much it opened my eyes to the world. Before I first visited in 1995, I was only aware of my small suburban town in Michigan, where I went to school with people who mostly looked, acted and spoke like me. We learned the same things and had the same interests.

But in Japan, I was thrown into a world of discomfort. And because of this, I learned:

  • that studying the Japanese language helped my native English grammar improve
  • how to stop talking and listen (because I obviously didn’t speak it at first)
  • how to be humble
  • how to stop pretending to be so confident
  • that there are multiple “right” ways to do things, and that my way isn’t necessarily the only way
  • that different cultures have unique ways of expressing their emotions and thoughts
  • that other cultures are beautiful
  • that learning another country’s history helps you learn your own
  • how to become more open-minded

This is not to say that I’m done learning, because I don’t think we ever should stop learning. In fact, at age 40, I feel like the next 40 years will bring even better life lessons that I’m eager to entertain.

The greatest lesson of all: be kind

Today, we see a lot of anger and sadness in the news and social media, especially in the US with the upcoming elections. My greatest hope for the world today is that we take a step back, take a deep breath, and just remember that we are all good people trying to share the world with everyone else. It’s a gift to know that each country, race, gender, and individual person is unique. If we were all the same, that would be a very boring planet, indeed.

Let’s be kind to each other and celebrate our differences 🙂

Photo by Providence Doucet on Unsplash

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